1YoT: The Canterbury Museum

As mentioned in our Christchurch post, Inna and I were blown away by the Canterbury Museum. It was so interesting, so well presented, and this despite the fact that the museum doesn’t have any all-star pieces (well, maybe one, keep reading and you tell me). The Canterbury Museum was so impressive that we’re giving it its own post!

Inna and I likened the Canterbury Museum to a mini-Smithsonian; while the Smithsonian has entire buildings dedicated to the subjects it covers, the Canterbury dedicates entire rooms. Because of this, the Canterbury Museum is a history/science/technology/art museum all rolled into one; each room covered a different subject, so we never knew what we were going to experience next.

Trying to find a throughline, I would say this museum is about our world and the ways we interact with it. The museum is a study of earth and our relation to it, from a mostly New Zealand point of view.

Alright, enough explaining. Lets get to the exhibits!


This is the Canterbury Museum, built in the 1860s for the specific purpose of housing a museum. 


There are so many places I could begin in this museum, but I’ll begin here, with their antique collection. I’m actually not a huge fan of antiques, but this museum had two accompanying sections that I thought were great.

First accompanying section: several rooms in the museum, actually one long and twisty hallway the size of several rooms, were used to recreate an 1800s Victorian business district. Architecture, shops, goods, people, bicycles: you name it, this recreation had it all.


Inside the district’s gun/tool shop. This business would be right at home in the US’s old west.

The second section accompanying the antique exhibit covered 18th/early 19th century English and American fashion. Inna in particular enjoyed this exhibit a lot.

From fashion to bugs. Giant bugs. This was in the kid’s section, and I’m showing it here because this was the exhibit we walked through after viewing the antique exhibits pictured above.

After the bug exhibit it was time for Asian art. I told you, every room in this museum was different, you never knew what you were going to get.


Ancient Egypt goes with Ancient Asia, right? 

These Maorian works are actually prehistoric, not ancient, even though they aren’t as old as the ancient works from Egypt and Asia. 


The museum also featured several scenes depicting pre-historic Maori life. Very different than the modern day Maorian lifestyle we experienced in Rotorua.

The best exhibit in the Canterbury Museum – by far – was its stuffed bird collection. New Zealand is known for its bird species; scientists estimate the islands had just under 200 unique species when humans first arrived, 115 of which were endemic (endemic means a species is only found in one location in the entire world). An estimated 47 endemic species have gone extinct since humans arrived in New Zealand, 16 of which occurred in the last 150 years. Currently, 150 of New Zealand’s bird species/sub-species are threatened with extinction.


The Canterbury Museum had ~250 stuffed bird species/sub-species in their bird exhibit. They had so many birds, they had five different species of kiwis, the exact number of known kiwi species in the world.

Continuing with animals, here are some specimens from Canterbury’s skeleton collection.


Of course, no skeleton collection is complete without a T-rex.


Here is proof that the Canterbury Museum is a poor man’s Smithsonian: the Smithsonian had a gold and silver display but no copper display, while the Canterbury had a copper display but no gold or silver displays. Now all we need is a bronze display and we are set.


Both the Smithsonian and Canterbury had a giant meteorite in their collection, although I think the Smithsonian’s was bigger.


Moving on from geology, we now come to motorcycle racing. This piece actually is the potential all-star exhibit I alluded to above; it is the motorcycle Ivan Mauger rode to win his third Speedway World Championship (he won six in total, a record that remains to this day). This motorcycle, now known as the Triple Crown Special, was plated in gold following Mauger’s victory, paid for by two Americans who promised to do so should he win. The motorcycle was later bought by the Canterbury Museum for $1.7 million, the museum’s largest purchase. Canterbury specifically wanted this piece in their museum because Mauger is a Christchurch native. 

Moving on again, we now come to Canterbury’s Antarctica exhibit, which detailed and contained artifacts from Antarctica’s first human expeditions.

This was one of the strangest exhibits I’ve seen in a museum. It’s called the Shell House and it is an actual house, relocated inside this museum. The house’s insides are completely covered in shells, the creation of two kooky New Zealand locals.

Finally, we come to Canterbury’s Air New Zealand exhibit. Air New Zealand is a major Canterbury Museum sponsor, and this exhibit mainly served as advertising for the airline. But even so, it was cool. Most exciting was their virtual reality exhibit, Inna and I had never done modern virtual reality before and it was awesome!

With that we come to the end of our visit to the Canterbury Museum. We enjoyed this place so much, way more than expected; we hope what made this museum special was captured in this post! If you ever decide to visit New Zealand, I’m not sure how strongly I would recommend Christchurch (visiting New Zealand means visiting nature, not cities), but I would definitely recommend this museum.

Until then, you can continue visiting New Zealand through us! To read about our next New Zealand adventure, click here (blog post coming soon).


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